Ken Avery, President of Ambassador Limousine of N. Miami Beach, FL, was elected President of the National Limousine Association at a meeting of the Board of Directors in February. Avery succeeds Cris Portugal who resigned from the position a few months after beginning his second term.
After only several weeks in office, Avery described his background to Limousine & Chauffeur, and discussed some of the challenges he assumed upon taking the helm of the two year old association.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What is your background in the limousine business?
Avery: I retired from professional football in the early ’Seventies, after playing for ten years with Cincinnati, Kansas City, and New York. I started a valet-parking and self-parking company called American Parking Consultants. At that point we were running the cars through about ten locations, some of which were major hotels like the Fountainbleau Hilton in Miami. People would ask us if we could get them a limousine so, at that point, we started using two local limousine companies who paid commissions for the business.
In 1982, we decided to get into the business ourselves I didn’t know the business, specifically, but when you’re able to run one business successfully, the same principles sometimes apply to other businesses.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Were you involved with a regional association in the Miami area?
Avery: Yes. When our business started growing, we started bumping up against regulations. Regulations are set up in such a way that it’s not conducive to growth. One of my first inclinations was that we needed some type of unity on issues that affected the people who wanted to grow.
Limousine & Chauffeur: The NLA recently announced that it has formulated a group liability insurance program through Progressive Casualty Insurance Company. How does the insurance program work?
Avery: I think that Progressive has taken an interest in our group because they have experience through the American Trucker’s Association They also work with the United Bus Owners of America. They know that if they isolate a particular industry, it gives them a better view of how to evaluate the risk. Progressive has been researching the limousine industry since the middle part of last year.
We invited them to come to our seminar last October to talk about insurance because it was everybody’s frustration. We wanted to see how we could work together. We have laid down a set of stringent guidelines about who will be eligible for this program. We want good people who intend to run a good quality operation. People in that category are going to get a better premium.
They are going to ask for full disclosure so that they can see what your net profit is, so they can see that you’re managing your business, that you have good cash flow, and that you’re training your drivers. Driver training has not been something everybody wants to do.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How does the NLA come into this? Couldn’t an operator who is not a member go to Progressive and meet these guidelines and get the same coverage as an NLA member?
Avery: Progressive will recommend that they join the NLA because they feel we are working on projects and programs that are going to benefit our members. Progressive will write policies for non-members but, NLA members will receive a premium discount of up to 10 percent. Progressive is prepared to write a pretty fair premium in order to get people to roll out from what they have.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Have they given you any ballpark figures for what the premiums might be?
Avery: It’s going to vary depending on the area and the company.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Were you surprised that Cris. Portugal was reelected as President of the NLA last October instead of selecting a new leader?
Avery: Cris was doing a great job. I was nominated along with Cris, but I declined the nomination because I was going through contract negotiations with my business that were to determine whether I would need to move my offices to a new location. I felt I wouldn’t be able to give the time and effort to the NLA that it deserved.
A short time after the election, Cris called and told me that, in his efforts to work for the NLA, his own business had suffered. He was faced with some financial decisions, and chose to resign. At that time, I still didn’t know the outcome of my negotiations. Three days later, my proposal for a multi-year contract was accepted. Then I had more time to think about the NLA. Then, at the show in Atlantic City, the board endorsed my presidency unanimously. I hold this office until our annual meeting in the fall.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What else was discussed by the board in Atlantic City?
Avery: The first thing we want to do is concentrate on image-building and credibility. We want to make sure that we accept good members. We want companies that have the same goals as we do. We would like to be able to rely on them if we refer business to them.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Did you set any guidelines for membership?
Avery: We’re coming out with something we feel will be beneficial to both the NLA and local associations. We want to try and get people to become a member of their local association first. We feel if they belong to a local association that competitors in their community would know whether they are worth doing business with. If they are willing to network locally, they are likely to be a good candidate for us nationally.
We’re coming out with a program in the next 60 days in which a local association would pay $500 to the NLA, and its members would be able to join for $100 each. That’s half the normal price.
If you live in an area without a local association, then we will help develop one. The Florida Limousine Association was started with the help of Cris Portugal and the NLA. I asked Cris to come down here and we formed the association in one evening. We modeled the by-laws and articles of incorporation after those of the NLA. It was very inexpensive and quite effective.
Another thing we’re looking to do is offer a health and dental insurance program. A lot of small companies don’t have enough employees to qualify so we think that, as an association, we can get a group program going.
We’ve also been talking to some companies on a national accounts basis. For fuel, we’ve been talking to Shell, Exxon, and Chevron. I saw in a travel magazine that they figure there are between 65,000 and 85,000 limousines out there doing livery service. We feel if those numbers come close, then we are using a tremendous amount of fuel and products and could be attractive to those people. We also want to offer accessories like batteries, oil filters, and tires. Uniroyal has already come out front. NLA members will get a credit-type card they can present and get 20 percent off the best Uniroyal tire.
In eight months, we’ll have a defensive driving package. We’re working with SLI Learning Systems of Princeton, NJ. One of their staff members writes defensive driving programs for the National Safety Council. He is putting together a package for us that will train chauffeurs how to drive defensively and handle emergency situations. There will be a VHS package and a workbook so that drivers will go through a formal process. He wrote a program for the American Truckers Association and it actually brought about a reduction in their insurance rates.
They are going to tailor something specifically for our industry. I have a committee set up to give them all the information they will need to get this program going. Progressive is very excited about the program and they said they’d assist us in getting this done.
We’re working on a performance audit. We want to get a survey of our industry. You heard Ralph Nader say that we need more and more information on our business. We need to analyze our own performance by regions in order to learn how to improve the industry.
I saw a tremendous difference between the revenue a car could generate in Boston, versus one in Atlanta, versus one in Miami. We have a hard time making financial institutions understand our business and this would help.
Someone would be able to look at it and see how they are doing in their region versus the other areas of the country. Progressive has indicated they would assist in that project.
Public awareness is a goal. We want to make meeting planners at Fortune 500 companies, as well as hotel and motel associations, aware of what a good limousine company is. We want them to look for people who belong to associations because those are the people who are going to have better business ethics. An association will not accept somebody who doesn’t have good ethics. So we need to notify these people and encourage them to check out the companies they are dealing with to see if they belong to local and national associations. We feel that gives them a little credibility.
The other thing I’m really excited about is to have a one or two day caucus with the presidents of all of the local associations to go over some goals. We have a lot of similar problems, so we should see if we can work together a nationwide basis.
Limousine & Chauffeur: When is the next NLA Seminar?
Avery: It will be on April 5-7 at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. It will be a very educational program. We’re planning to have highly successful talk about success and what it takes to be a winner. We also plan on having knowledgeable people in the area of marketing, as well as a number of other speakers.
We will spend a lot of time sharing our knowledge, and learning from other people’s experiences. We have been getting letters from people who tell us what a tremendous difference the seminars make in their business.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Is the NLA looking at being more aggressive in referring business to other members?
Avery: I think so. When the NLA first started, we didn’t have adequate guidelines for new members. Anyone who had their $200, and was willing to sign up, could join. Last year, as badly as we needed the money, we returned over $7,000 in rebated fees. We gave people their money back, and it took us awhile to do that, but now we have people in every area who know what to do. When somebody comes in, we feel we’ll have a better chance of knowing what they’re going to be an acceptable operation.
I feel that we’re starting to know one another and we’re creating a confidence. These are people who want to get on with the business. They want to learn, and keep their business running better, and meet people across the nation that they can refer their best customers to.”
Limousine & Chauffeur: That’s about thirty-five members at $200 each. That’s a high percentage of your members.
Avery: Those were people who did not meet our basic guidelines such as having insurance and a PUC license.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you have guidelines now for screening your associate members, including the coachbuilders and suppliers?
Avery: We feel they should have a substantial interest in the industry, but also product liability insurance. People who have product liability coverage are the ones you want to deal with.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you see a problem in the limousine industry as far as product liability?
Avery: You hear about companies that sell a limousine and then, after the sale, they disappear and you never see them again. It can be a nightmare trying to get something like an electrical problem repaired.
I think that by exchanging ideas, and by reporting problems to a central organization like the NLA, as Ralph Nader suggests, we can improve the situation with coach-builders as well as other vendors. I think it will make a better industry.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What is your main goal this year?
Avery: I’d like to see the NLA communicate more closely with the local associations. And I’d like to see the association leaders get together and exchange ideas at least once a year. Opening up those lines of communication would allow all of the associations to become more effective, and I believe it would help build a stronger industry. We have a lot of projects in front of us.